He was even troubled by the prospect of point guard Kristin Portell dictating the tempo of the game.
Reserve forward Whitney Allen, however, was the source of an entirely different sort of dread. At 5-foot-9, she presented a matchup problem that Smith thought could effect the game’s outcome.
He was right.
Allen’s height and athleticism caused tremendous trouble for the Bulldogs on both ends of the floor as the Vikings rallied for a 46-34 victory. She played outstanding defense against Hylton’s scoring leader Jasmine Byrd, pulled down seven rebounds and, perhaps most importantly, provided the offensive spark that enabled Woodbridge to capture its second district title in three years.
“We don’t have an answer for Whitney Allen,” Smith said. “But we’re going to have to do something if we play them again.”
The Vikings and Bulldogs are each headed to the Northwest Region Tournament, but Allen altered the journey for both teams with a game-high 12-point performance. With a coveted gymnasium banner and a first-round regional home game at stake, Allen entered the game with two minutes left in the first quarter and promptly fueled a 16-0 scoring run that allowed the Vikings to erase an 11-point deficit.
“Whitney was outstanding. She gets player of the game,” Woodbridge coach George Washington said. “She rebounded. She handled the ball. She guarded Jasmine. What else can you ask someone to do?”
Whether it was a key rebound, a defensive stop or a clutch basket, Allen provided it. She scored seven points in the second period, when Woodbridge took complete command, and her presence opened up the lane for Clark, who had 11 points, 12 rebounds and three blocks.
“Whitney was the turning point, her defense and her offense,” Clark said. “She’s a double threat for us.”
Allen’s had games like this before. She scored a career-high 18 against Colonial Forge during the holiday break and dropped in 13 points against rival Gar-Field. But the junior forward had never played in a championship game before. If she was nervous, it didn’t show.
When Allen came off the bench, the Vikings had only two points. The regular season champion Bulldogs had dominated play from the opening tip and had put themselves in position to become the first team other than Woodbridge or Gar-Field to win the Cardinal District Tournament.
“We wanted to come out with enthusiasm and we did that,” Smith said. “But after the first few minutes we lost something.”
What the Bulldogs lost was momentum. It all changed when Allen stepped onto the court and the Vikings went into their 2-2-1 zone press. After scoring 13 points in the first quarter, Hylton generated only five points in the second period.
The rest of the night belonged to the Vikings.
Wooten hit her only three-pointer of the game to put Woodbridge ahead by five points at halftime and she wound up scoring eight points overall. Portell finished with nine points and three steals, while forward Diana Martinez added four points and Jennifer Woodie two for the Vikings, who will play Western Valley District runner-up E.C. Glass in the regional quarterfinals on Tuesday.
“Getting down 13-2 fazed us, but we didn’t get down on ourselves,” Portell said. “We knew there were 24 minutes left to play. We came out after that and picked up the pressure. We were everywhere. Everyone contributed.”
The Vikings relied primarily on eight players to snap a two-game losing streak against Hylton and they did it without backup point guard April Henderson, who missed the game with an ankle injury.
That meant the ball and the game was in Portell’s hands most of the night.
With Portell running the offense, the Vikings never panicked after Hylton jumped in front. A four-year starter who has already been to one state tournament, she provided a calming influence that the younger Bulldogs lacked in pressure situations.
“We’ve been in big games before. This was their first time,” Washington said. “If you’ve done it before, experience keeps you together.”
Desire also kept the Vikings motivated. They came into the game as underdogs, having already lost to Hylton 56-46 at home and 53-51 on the road. On a neutral court at Forest Park, Woodbridge prevailed when it mattered most.
The Vikings held Hylton to a season-low 34 points and, despite 11 points from Byrd and 10 from Starr Allen, forced the Bulldogs to make a long and unwanted road trip to George Washington-Danville on Tuesday.
“Being expected to lose gave us more motivation to win,” Clark said. “This gives us a trophy for the locker room, a banner for the wall and patches for our jackets.”
The Bulldogs were left with a sense of unfulfilled achievement, but also the knowledge that their best season in school history is not over yet. Hylton has already won more games (20) than ever before and is headed to regionals for the first time since the 1995-96 season.
After winning the district’s regular season title for the first time earlier this month, the Bulldogs had hoped to advance to the regional tournament as a No.1 seed. That honor went to the Vikings, who avenged their two regular season losses to Hylton and improved to 19-4 overall.
“The games before didn’t count,” Portell said. “This is the one that counted. It’s one more step toward our goal. We got our banner. We wanted it so bad.”
WOODBRIDGE 46, POTOMAC 34
Daniels 0 0-0 0, Lancaster 0 0-0 0, Murphy 0 0-0 0, Woodie 1 0-0 2, Wooten 2 3-5 8. Clark 5 1-3 11, Martinez 0 4-6 4, Dickriede 0 0-0 0, Parsels 0 0-0 0, Portell 2 5-10 9, Mumley 0 0-0 0, Blackshear 0 0-0 0, Allen 5 2-3 12, Hadley 0 0-0 0, Woleslage 0 0-0 0. Totals 15 15-27 46.
Byrd 3 4-6 11, Rhodan 1 1-2 3, Sellman 0 0-0 0, Purnell 0 1-3 1, Hoston 0 0-2 0, Hardley 0 0-2 0, Mason 4 1-2 9, Allen 5 0-0 10. Totals 13 7-15 34.
Halftime Woodbridge 23-18.
Three-point goals Woodbridge 1 (Wooten), Hylton 1 (Byrd).